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Prologue: For some reason I can't explain, I have often heard people mixing up these entirely two different valley settings. The fact is, one is in Utah and the other in Nevada. Moreover, the terrain is completely different, as is the temperament of each. Well, some of us sense a different temperament visiting such places. In any event, I decided to clear up any lingering confusion by doing a diary on both settings. This way if you ever get invited to join Alex Trebek, on Jeopardy, you will at least guess the right answers for either location. (And is this MC still doing these wonderful shows, I wonder?)

Location/Geography: Valley of the Gods is located in southwestern Utah, near the Arizona border. The closest towns: Mexican Hat and Bluff. Red rock country at the base of Cedar Mesa. Elevation: 4,675 feet.

Spotlight: A geologic sibling to Monument Valley. Quiet, peaceful and out of the way. An unsurpassed setting away from the maddening crowd (of tourists).

Snapshot: About 33 miles north of Monument Valley, this smaller rock-hewn estate is like a geologic afterthought. Here, in this 50-square-mile basin managed by the BLM, the studded and picturesque setting of spires, buttes and towers of this, the other neighborhood valley, represents a panorama of sheer fascination. Navajo legend says the lofty sandstone sentinels in the ocher-hued amphitheater setting are warriors long ago turned to stone. Its sprawling backcountry consists of miles and miles of exposed red rock, shallow dry river channels, and of course stunning, rising landmarks that beckon visitors. Just take plenty of water, for this is indeed a parched landscape, another desert Southwest place in one sense, yet very singular in another.

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Prologue: Arizona's Wupatki NM, which I recently posted a diary on same (, but slipped fairly rapidly through the Recent Diary list, reminded me of a complimentary contrast, if you will, to living style and quarters. Thus the subject title of today's diary, on Bandelier. We'll be headed west out of Santa Fe and fairly close to a locale where more Ph.D's live and work than anywhere on the planet. Can you guess the name of this town? (Here's a hint: Its work force of scientific Mensa types was responsible for making the biggest and loudest and brightest explosion of all time, at a place called Trinity.) Anyway, this upcoming tour is about a unique geologic setting the Ancestral Puebloans found ideal for settlement, mainly by fashioning apartments in readymade caves. They also selected a region where wildlife was abundant, as well as year-round water coursing through their expansive settlement. If you love hiking, then you are sure to love Bandelier's stunning setting and this archeological repository of dwellings and ruins.

Location/Geography: New Mexico, in Sandoval, Los Alamos, and Santa Fe Counties. Nearest city: Los Alamos (and fairly close to Santa Fe). Area: 33,677 acres. Monument entrance elevation about 6,500 feet. Located in the Santa Fe National Forest.

Spotlight: Human habitation for over 10,001 years. Geology ideal for cave dwelling (tuff, from volcanic ash). Bandelier's heyday (occupation), from 1151 to 1351. The big adventure here is to climb to Alcove House high above the canyon floor by way of wooden ladders, then climb down into a reconstructed kiva built inside the cave (not for the unwary).

Snapshot: Bandelier's main attraction is Frijoles Canyon. Its setting features a number of pueblo homes, kivas and petroglyphs. Some of these Ancestral Puebloan dwellings are structures built on the canyon floor, while others are alcoves high in the canyon wall. These sizable openings, called cavates, were later enlarged by humans. This rugged and arid landscape maintained an indigenous population that lived along the streams in the canyons, and in some cases on mesa tops above them. The Rito de los Frijoles ("Bean Creek") in Frijoles Canyon runs nearly year-round, while most canyons have seasonal streams that dry up during parts of the year.

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Location/Geography: In north central Arizona, Coconino County. Nearest settlement: Cameron; nearest city, Flagstaff. Area: 35,254 (50 square miles). Northeast of Sunset Crater/Bonito Lava Flow. Overlooks Painted Desert region and accentuated by numerous spatter cones.

Spotlight: Once one of the largest pueblos in northern Arizona. Dominant and popular focal trading point for various tribal people); also occupied by different tribal groups over the years. Amazing backdrop of volcano country. Focus: human history, archeological ruins, dry farming and volcanoes.

Snapshot: Wupatki's ruins, as an overall setting, is some 2,000 feet lower than the volcanic region north of Flagstaff. Hence, the monument's desert scrub vegetation is quite different. The three-story Wupatki Pueblo was once home to many people at different times, and agriculture was vital to sustain them. The settlement is built on the edge of a small plateau with unobstructed views eastward toward the Painted Desert and the valley of the Little Colorado River, entering the Grand Canyon region just east of the canyon at Cameron (notably, the famous Trading Post), and not too far from Wupatki. All the rooms at the ruins are partially reconstructed. Less than eight hundred years ago, Wupatki was the largest pueblo throughout the region. It was also a relative newcomer for a constructed settlement on the outskirts of a broad desert terrain. Purportedly, this site had about one hundred rooms and between eighty and one hundred inhabitants during part of the 1100s. Wupatki flourished for a time as a dominant meeting place for different cultures living in the Southwest. It was also the warmest and driest place on the Colorado Plateau; however, water, food, even comfort were scarce. Wupatki was declared a national monument sometime during the 1930s.

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Hikers trekking the South Kaibab Trail (photo take by Mike Buchheit, Director of the Grand Canyon Field Institute; my boss in other words!)

Prologue: This past weekend featured a two-part series on Grand Canyon National Park. Today's diary highlights information about the many hiking trails the park has to offer. The information is also cautionary given the rigors of this terrain. That being said, do, please, pay attention to such advice. Normally, hiking, like backpacking (and the two are not the same) is a safe and enjoyable experience, though the use of this adjective must also be qualified in the sense such enjoyment entails physical exertion).

On the other foot, sometimes things just go awry and incidents occur that can and will instantly change the complexion of any excursion, going from good to bad or worse, just like that. Ergo, if it appears to some DKos community readers I am a bit too preachy given such cautionary remarks, consider these epistles, lectures, admonishments, or by some other name, sound guidelines that should always be in place before taking that first step on any hike or backpacking excursion.

Note: As previously mentioned, and unless otherwise stated in the Attribution, all photos used in this diary are either my own or sent to me by field institute students and used by permission.

Choosing A Hiking Trail: There are many trails into the Grand Canyon, but keep this well intended advice in mind if you intend to hike here: FOLKS, THERE ARE NO EASY TRAILS INTO THE CANYON. NONE. The trails, and in many cases the steeper switchbacks, in the Canyon are classified as "highways," "backcountry," or "backcountry-wilderness" (i.e., primitive as in "What trail?"). The following information is only included in this text so that you know what you might be up against should you decide to take a hike into the Canyon, either for a day hike or an overnight stay. If you are going to test your muscles (and hopefully not challenge the Darwinian survival theory), then you will need to purchase trail books (with pictures and maps) for all the trails other than the two classic Canyon highways, the Bright Angel and the Kaibab Trails. (Highways? Because mule trains carrying dudes, luggage, supplies, and trash use them along with a mess of day hikers and backpackers.)

If you're planning to stay overnight you will also need a permit. (Please see the information below on the "Backcountry Office"). For 99% of the hikes in this challenging terrain you will need topographical maps (for backcountry and backcountry-wilderness trails), the right hiking and/or backpacking equipment, decent to expert route finding abilities (depending on the trail you're hiking), prior hiking and/or backpacking experience, be in good shape for the trails, and in very excellent shape for the more difficult trails. Having decent karma, grace, or darn good luck may also be an added advantage or bonus.

The aptly named "Devil's Corkscrew," along the Bright Angel Trail (ending near Phantom Ranch).
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From the South Rim, looking east toward the lower part of the South Kaibab Trail

Prologue: Today's continuing tour of the big ditch of northern Arizona gets a bit heavy given the theoretical explanation of how this chasm came to be a chasm. (Part 1'st diary can be found here: As always, I will find a way to make the information more discernible without having to dumb things down, that is, in what the Buddha called spoon feeding to the sangha (community). Besides, I'm writing these diaries to one of the most overall erudite audiences on the planet; and somewhat akin to the folks I have had the pleasure to work with over many years, most of whom came on tours I conducted to learn something behind the scenery. Hence, not the usual tourist types desiring less talk and more sightseeing. Then again, why not do both at the same time, n'est-ce pas?

The Classic ‘Fairytale’ Version: Most people visiting the Grand Canyon see the Colorado River winding its way from the northeast to the southwest and assume this great chasm was cut and carved by this very body of water. However, the association of this assiduous river and the canyon is a common myth. As previously mentioned, the more involved story tells us otherwise. The most held theory, however, is that the Colorado did indeed make the first breach into the upper crust of the Colorado Plateau, then gradually incised its way downward into the sedimentary terrain. In time, erosion and faulting fabricated the exposed rock formations viewed today. So, in a way the Colorado River did initially breach the plateau in this region. Then again, the rest of the story unfolded through gradual uplifting, downcutting and erosion over time. To envision the regional landscape before this erosion and fabrication began, think of a huge slab of sedimentary material. If it's an uneven and bumpy sample, so much the better. Now expand the dimensions to nearly 2,000 square miles. You soon get an idea of what this region once looked like––a rather bland depiction long before the chasm and nexus of smaller canyons were created. When the waters of, what would one day become, the Colorado River first trickled down from the Rockies, then gradually turned into a more potent stream, its invigorated gnawing eventually flowed out of today’s Colorado territory, then wandered into the desert terrain beyond. No one can pinpoint when the river first arrived in the Four Corners vicinity. Neither can it be stated with any certainty what this body of water was doing for millions of years. About the only thing geologists can figure is the approximate time when the Colorado finally migrated toward the Echo and Vermilion Cliffs region, relatively close to today’s Page (Arizona). From there, it meandered and incised its way across a virgin territory now named the Marble Platform. Remember that the river, like all rivers and streams throughout the territory, could not inscribe its path so deeply without the great uplift of the Colorado Plateau (URL's for this trinity of diaries posted in yesterday's diary). In short, without uplift of the terrain, there could be no downcutting by rivers or streams into the pavement foundation.

Follow me for more Grand Canyon facts (I'm a Desert Bighorn Ewe by the way and I live from rim to river, depending on the season and temperature extremes.)
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From Desert View, looking east toward the Painted Desert

Prologue: I have been asked numerous times, and here I'll paraphrase the gist of those comments, "Rich. . .since you often refer to the Grand Canyon as your 'other' office, why don't you take us on a tour?" To tell you the truth I don't have an explanation, other than I have been preparing a special 10-part series on this 'other' office I've come to know since 1970, but lately decided I'm not sure if the DKos audience has the patience to sit thru all that reading. This is, after all, first and foremost a politically-oriented site, and I am very grateful to have garnered a niche market audience given the national parks, monuments and archeological ruins tours, with an emphasis on a staunch environmental endorsement for such protected places (including all other rare and vanishing open spaces). That being said, I decided to liberate the Grand Canyon tour from the larger copyrighted (my own) tome, FAMOUS LANDMARKS OF THE SOUTHWEST (which I hope to eventually pitch to a publisher). For this illustrious audience, you folks, I have somewhat downsized the original information into more compact diary formats (I know, what you have been getting in these tours is anything but compact).

On that note, may I remind all of you the innovative format of these diaries replicates the series, in that the information shared in the guise of a virtual tour is layered. Thus going from the basic to more comprehensible, where the reader gets to decide how much or how little to read. Moreover, all the diaries tend to focus on three main themes as subject matter: geology, natural history (flora and fauna), and human history relative to the site that is featured. It follows some people are not interested in all these facets. Ergo, one reads what one is interested in reading.

Finally, because the Grand Canyon is such a huge chasm featuring so much background information, its knowledge requires a two-part series. Indeed, there also be a special addenda immediately following the final presentation with a focus on hiking trails on both sides of the canyon. In this lengthy list will be a trail description of the most popular hiking, the Bright Angel Trail which extends from the South to the North rims (and changes name to the North Kaibab Trail on the other side of the Colorado River).

Now let's get started on tour of the big ditch of northern Arizona. She may not be the biggest canyon in the world, but by God she's the best. I also refer to this chasm in such a personal way because She really is the Mother Canyon of them all!

Location/Geography: In north central Arizona, Coconino County. Closest city: Flagstaff. Area: 1,217,403 acres (1,904 square miles). Colorado Plateau physiographic province. Kaibab Plateau region that was broken apart millions of years ago and dissected into seven major slices: the Marble (canyon) Platform; the North Rim's Kaibab, Kanab, Unikaret, Shivwits; and the South Rim's Coconino and Hualapai Plateaus.

Note: All photos posted in this and the following diary are my own or contributed by former Grand Canyon Field Institute or Northern Arizona University students (unless otherwise specified.)

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Prologue: This past weekend I posted two diaries on slot canyons: Antelope Canyon ( and one featuring other popular slots ( For today's diary, it's a whole other of a canyon, actually a gorge, at its upper sector that is featured. Located to the southeast of the Grand Canyon, the Little Colorado River Gorge is sometimes referred to as the Baby Grand Canyon. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this sector southeast of the Grand Canyon, which is visible from Desert View. Of course, it's really a deep chasm, whose average depth is around 1,000 feet. At the upper end, near Cameron (Arizona), the sinuous gorge etches toward the Grand Canyon, as though a gigantic and deep crack in the Earth opened up. From the raven's view, this sector of the Little Colorado River appears like scrimshaw across the Mesozoic Era formations defining the eastern view and Painted Desert terrain beyond Grand Canyon National Park. As spectacular as this cracked pavement is, at the start of the gorge is something even more awesome: the Grand Falls. This lava-based foundation is more stunning when the monsoonal rains begin, usually between mid-July thru mid-September. Arguably, that's the best time to see and hear Nature's display of thundering, muddy water spilling down the stair-steppedd profile defining the falls. Even when the falls aren't pouring over the basalt like chocolate milk, this overall tabernacle of rock is nonetheless impressive.

But there's a catch to getting there: this part of the Little Colorado River Gorge, the upper sector, can be tricky to find. So, pay close attention to the directions at the close of this diary. You'll need the route getting there and you'll need a bit of luck when you arrive, that is, to get down below the falls and really get an eye and earful.

Like a torrent of chocolate milk spilling down the stair-stepped lava-based profile of the Grand Calls

Location/Geography: In northeastern Arizona, east of Flagstaff and just off Leupp Road. The falls are on the Navajo Reservation (Leupp) east on Leupp Road, at the eastern edge of the San Francisco Volcanic Field which is 1,800 square miles and marks the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau.

Spotlight: The falls are like a flowing chocolate milkshake during the spring runoff. To think the Little Colorado River can put on such an energetic and thunderous show like this! Certainly, an aptly named setting. Think of a chocolate smoothie in the guise of a quite muddy river that adds to the popular appeal of these falls. . .but mostly when the cubic feet per second (c.f.s.) is extreme.

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Paria Canyon, the loveliest of slot canyon paradises stretching from Utah into Arizona (and ends at Lee's Ferry (the Colorado River) near Page

Prologue: Yesterday's diary, on Antelope Canyon ( likely got a lot of our community excited about the spellbinding beauty of this iconic slot canyon. The diary also touched upon two fundamental aspects about this, or any other, slot canyon, which in this diary I want to highlight before getting into the heart of the matter: presenting other notable slot canyon hiking details, including relative background associated with the places I've chosen to feature. In this case, I elect to relate the negative before the positive. In short, putting the danger before the pleasure. The danger is, of course, the potential of flash flooding. I relate this grim stuff just so you know what to be wary of before entering any slot canyon. Indeed, and for a change, your life depends on common sense should you elect to mess about with Mother Nature. To get the tour underway, let me first present a background story using pictures and captions. Hence, when you venture into sandstone country and terrain like this...

And you happen to notice this stuff moving in your direction...

But you're chomping at the bit to get down inside and experience this...

Well, let me just spit it out: DO YOU HAVE A PREMATURE DEATH WISH? I mean, did you not notice the usual posted signs that demand hikers use common sense before entering such places?

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Nature's most exquisite and winding passageway of form, color and ethereal lighting
With narrow walls and a narrow window of azure-colored sky
Yet from the raven's higher perspective, utterly deceptive
For in this tight and twisting fissure is found an immaculate world of eccentric shape and engaging color

Prologue: Today's tour takes us to the most celebrated slot canyon in the entire American Southwest. Located on the Navajo Reservation, in Page, Arizona, it is entirely managed by the Navajo tribe. Although photos taken in this slot canyon appear to be doctored, that is, given the singularity of both the lighting and artistic profile of the narrow walls, I can assure it Nature has created everything here. Water is also responsible for creating the slow canyon profile, that is, flash floods over the eons. As for the lighting effect, it is sunlight at a select time of day that embellishes the view. Get ready for a breathtaking view of Antelope Canyon, both the Upper and Lower sectors.

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Prologue: Possibly the most famous caverns in the world. . .that is, below its crust. I, myself, never felt entirely comforting doing the spelunking kind of exploration, but I did enjoy touring the main and secondary caverns in this national park, and one or two tours crawling on my belly. For the most part, Carlsbad Caverns is an easy tour, when walking. I highly suggest visiting this locale if you're ever in this part of New Mexico. Just head for these towering heights, the Guadalupe Mountains and prepare yourself for one of the most awesome underground cavern networks on the planet. . .bar none!

Location/Geography: Southeastern New Mexico, Eddy County. Guadalupe Mountains (8,749 feet), on a plateau at the south side of Walnut Canyon. Entrance is 18 miles southwest of the closest town, Carlsbad. Area: 46,766 acres (73 square miles).

Spotlight: Bats, galore! An subterranean haven of colossal chambers called rooms. Donʼt touch anything along the way! One of the premier caves in North America; also premier for an exhilarating evening bat show (in season).

Snapshot: Carlsbad Caverns, “The Show Cave Tour,” begins rather dramatically, there in the Underground Lunchroom some 750 feet below the entrance. Approximately two-thirds of the park has been set aside as a wilderness are to preserve the fragile habitat of these subterranean environs. The interior of the caverns is illuminated (to some degree) and highlight the formations. Carlsbad includes a large cave chamber––the Big Room. This natural limestone chamber is nearly 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and 350 feet high at the highest point. Itʼs the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world. (The largest chamber is in Malaysia, called the Sarawak Chamber.) There are well over two dozen chambers––rooms––to explore. Most tours are guided, although there are some sectors of Carlsbad that can be self-guided. These are also the more squeeze-tighter places, such that spelunkers (commonly called "cavers") enjoy exploring, often on their bellies. The town of Carlsbad, New Mexico, which lends its name to the celebrated caverns and the national park, is in turn named after a Czech town formerly known by the German name Carlsbad (whose modern spelling is Karlsbad). In 1923, the cavern setting had become quite popular and therefore deemed important by the government to protect its sanctuary. It was soon designated a national monument. Seven years later it was proclaimed a national park. In 1978, Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness was additionally established with the National Parks and Recreation Act.

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Prologue: And now for something completely different given the usual diaries that I post. I say 'unusual' without exaggeration, because this monument is conceivably the most singular in all respects. For one thing, the word "DUCK!" comes to mind, that is, when missiles launched from the nearby missile range track across the sky. For another, here are sand dunes that you can actually hike during the hottest weather and never, ever burn your footsies. Do you know why? Well, to find out that answer, and lots of other peripherally related information connected to this site, including the most famous (or by some accounts, infamous) big blast of all time, the first of its kind, this tour promises at least one thing: adventure. Do bring water, however, because anytime sun and sand are in the picture a psychological need for drinking water arises. Make that copious swallows of water.

Location/Geography: In central New Mexico, Western Otero and northeastern Dona Ana counties: Closest town: Alamogordo (Spanish for "cottonwood" or "big fat tree"). Area: 143,733 acres (224.5 square miles). Elevation 4,235 feet. Setting entirely within the Tularosa Basin Valley and ringed by the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains.

Spotlight: Gypsum sand dunes. Air Force testing missile range. Historical “Trinity ground zero” (premiere atomic bomb blast) as part of the sprawling monument.

Snapshot: White Sands NM with its glistening white setting was founded in 1936 and governed by the NPS, who later added to the monument's repertoire of scenic places. Today, White Sands comprises the southern sector of 275 square miles of dunes composed entirely of gypsum crystals. Located on the northernmost boundaries of White Sands Missile Range is the famous Trinity Site. During the mid-1940s, this sector of White Sands was used for detonation of the first atomic bomb (a/k/a/ "ground zero"). The site remains a popular tourist attraction when it's open and traffic jams are said to be nearly as awesome as the first atom bomb explosion, which was very small in relation to what followed.

Photo by
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This diary voluntarily removed; if anyone would like me to resend to their email, let me know. Apparently, someone didn't like my take or spiel on Native American history and I'd rather not quibble about such things. Nevertheless, I think my research on the subject has been meticulous and culturally sensitive. Thanks for your understanding.

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